[dehai-news] (Reuters): Somalis say Ethiopian troops enter, Addis denies

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Feb 03 2009 - 10:19:10 EST

Somalis say Ethiopian troops enter, Addis denies

Tue Feb 3, 2009 11:09am GMT


(Adds Shabaab spokesman)

By Abdi Sheikh and Abdi Guled

MOGADISHU, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Ethiopian troops who left Somalia last month
after a more than two-year intervention have crossed back over the border to
prepare an assault against Islamic militants, residents said on Tuesday.

Addis Ababa denied their account as false and malicious.

Residents in the town of Baladwayne, near the Ethiopia border, said soldiers
had moved about 12 miles (20 km) into Somalia to join forces with former
rulers of Baladwayne whom the hardline insurgent al Shabaab group ousted at
the end of 2008.

"We have been frightened for the last 36 hours because Ethiopian troops and
the ousted Baladwayne authorities have come closer," local elder Abdirizak
Ali told Reuters from Baladwayne town.

"We anticipate attacks from those troops."

Addis Ababa has said it is keeping a heavy troop presence on the border in
case of threats to its security.

But it denied crossing back, after a highly-publicised withdrawal from
Somalia completed on Jan. 26. "The army is within the Ethiopian border.
There is no intention to go back," minister and government spokesman Bereket
Simon said, calling the report a "wicked" distraction from progress in

Although the presence or not of Ethiopian soldiers on Somali soil is a
highly sensitive subject for both nations, diplomats have said privately
they would not be surprised if Addis Ababa made some minor incursions to
deter the Islamist rebels.

Witnesses have, however, confused soldiers in the past, as Somali soldiers
have borrowed Ethiopian uniforms, or vice-versa. Also, Ethiopians from the
border are ethnically Somali.

Al Shabaab, which means youth in Arabic and is on Washington's list of
terrorist organisations, took advantage of Ethiopia's final pullout of
Somalia a week ago to take more towns and increase its territorial control
in the south.


Though it has held Baladwayne, near the Ethiopian border, for several
months, it took Baidoa, the seat of the Somali parliament, on Jan. 26, the
same day that Ethiopian soldiers left and crossed back over the border.

Al Shabaab has been holding demonstrations this week against Somalia's new
President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist whom they accuse of
selling out to the West.

Ahmed was elected at the weekend as part of a U.N.-brokered plan to try and
form a unity government and bring peace to Somalia for the first time since
1991. His main challenge is to defeat, isolate or somehow bring on board al

A student in Baladwayne, Habiba Ismail, said it appeared al Shabaab fighters
had been planning to regroup there, which might have prompted an Ethiopian
incursion. "Some al Shabaab from Mogadishu have already arrived. Others are
on the way."

The Ethiopians, together with militia loyal to the former governor of
Baladwayne, were at Kalaber, a village some 19 miles (30km) north of
Baladwayne towards the border, the locals said.

In Merka, south of Mogadishu, al Shabaab gathered hundreds for a rally
against the new Somali president on Tuesday.

In Baidoa, al Shabaab's national spokesman Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansoor
said the group would fight a jihad until there was rule by Islamic sharia
law across Somalia.

He also accused African Union (AU) peacekeepers of killing 40 people in
Mogadishu on Monday when they opened fire after being hit by a roadside
bomb. Mogadishu's deputy mayor said 39 had died, while medics spoke of at
least 16.

"We shall oust (AU mission) AMISOM by force as we did to the Ethiopian
troops who were more powerful than them," he said.

The AU denied opening fire, saying the insurgents themselves had shot and
killed civilians after the explosion.

(Additional reporting by Ibrahim Mohamed in Mogadishu, and Tsegaye Tadesse
in Addis Ababa; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Ralph Boulton)

C Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved



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